Who would have thought Aquaman would be the highest grossing movie out of all the DC superhero films? The James Wan directed blockbuster grossed $1,152,028,393 worldwide with the next closest DC flick being Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. If we’re only counting Snyderverse/DCEU pictures, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice raked in a little over $874 million. Sadly, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom finds itself in the same boat as The Marvels. Both are sequels to billion dollar hits and both feel like they’re being dropped into theaters without any fanfare. Neither movie is expected to make the big money of their predecessor. Blame superhero fatigue or the tepid response to other recent DC/Marvel releases.
Despite being King of the Seven Seas, Aquaman has always been the Rodney Dangerfield of comic book characters. He’s constantly been ridiculed in pop culture (Family Guy, Robot Chicken) as a useless character unless he’s surrounded by water. This lack of respect was actually a regular thorn in the side of Aquaman in Geoff Johns’ 2011 comic run.
Warner Bros. wisely cast the burly and charismatic Jason Momoa to play the half-human/half-Atlantean superhero. Momoa’s long hair and scraggly beard makes him look just like the character during his hook hand phase in the early-90’s. Meanwhile, his boisterous personality is reminiscent of John DiMaggio’s outrageous version on Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
Since the events of the first film, Aquaman aka Arthur Curry has married the aquakinetic Mera (Amber Heard) and become father to a baby boy named Arthur Jr. He’s also embraced his destiny as King of Atlantis though his progressive ideas are stymied by a council who still view the surface world with disdain. Meanwhile, archenemy David Kane aka The Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) has found a hidden cache of ancient Atlantean weapons, including an artifact known as the Black Trident. This weapon not only enhances Black Manta’s strength, but drives him to use a power source called Orichalcum to speed up global warming. Arthur must join forces with his brother Orm (Patrick Wilson), the former Ocean Master whose throne was usurped.
While the first Aquaman followed Arthur and Mera on a National Treasure-esque romp, Lost Kingdom is a buddy comedy between the bickering brothers. Patrick Wilson (who looks more like the conventional Aquaman) is excellent in the straight man role and butt of his older brother’s jokes. Momoa and Wan whole-heartedly lean into the more outrageous elements of the Aquaman mythos. We get the former Game of Thrones actor decked out in the classic orange shirt while riding a giant, glowing blue seahorse named Storm. We also meet Topo, a drum playing octopus who has been genetically engineered to assist our heroes in stealth missions. As for Black Manta, he’s in full-blown Bond supervillain mode with an army of uniformed henchmen, a giant submarine, and a secret headquarters on a volcanic island.
The production design and special effects used to create the underwater world of Atlantis are sumptuous. The sequel is bright and goes even further to explore the ocean depths. The titular Lost Kingdom is introduced as a glowing green necropolis whose citizens have been transmuted into undead creatures. The protagonists also visit an underwater pirates’ hideaway that’s like Vegas meets Sea World with hammerhead bouncers, fishy showgirls, and it’s all ruled over by a pot bellied sea creature voiced by Martin Short. We’re also taken to a desert prison guarded by skeletal warriors and bizarre scorpion-like mounts with faces that resemble multi-mouthed leeches.
Also returning from the original film are Nicole Kidman and Temuera Morrison as Aquaman’s parents, Dolph Lundgren as King Nereus, father of Mera, and John Rhys-Davies as the voice of the crustacean Brine King. Kidman gets one brief action sequence while Lundgren and Rhys-Davies participate in the climactic showdown with Manta. They’re really just background players with Randall Park, who previously debuted in a mid-credits scene, gets a meatier role. As Dr. Stephen Shinn, he portrays a scientist that quickly finds himself in over his head while working for the bad guy.
As the last movie under the old guard, don’t expect any teases for future projects in Lost Kingdom. A scene involving Batman, first shot with Michael Keaton, then later reshot with Ben Affleck, is nowhere to be found. In fact, there’s no reference to any other DC Comics denizens and the sequel’s mid-credits scene amounts to nothing more than a quick gag. Honestly? That’s one of the strongest elements of Lost Kingdom. It’s refreshing to watch a superhero movie that doesn’t require you to see a dozen other flicks and shows.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom marks the end of WB/DC’s first attempt at a unified cinematic universe. The DCEU lasted fifteen films, one streaming series, one picture (Batgirl) that was controversially canceled, along with a whole litany of projects that never escaped development hell. Unfortunately, most people will remember this era for its missed opportunities and behind-the-scenes controversies. However, Lost Kingdom doesn’t deserve to be a complete write-off. The sequel has its share of silliness, but no more so than the first Aquaman, which saw the eponymous protagonist emerge from the ocean waters to a hip-hop remix of Toto’s “Africa.” Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is a fun and colorful action-adventure that will hopefully find its audience.
Film Rating: 7